New center can help

Final exams are just a couple of weeks away and that familiar knot is starting to form in your stomach. Unfortunately, there may be little you can do about that sort of anxiety as test time rolls around. But if your symptoms are extreme, if you have obsessive thoughts of doom, if you can’t think or interact because of your fear, you might want to pay a visit to the School of Medicine’s Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety (CTSA), which opened last July.

“Some anxiety is normal and can’t be avoided,” said Dr. Edna Foa, professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry and director of CTSA. “But if a person has so much anxiety that it interferes with studies or concentration, then people should come and receive help.”

Foa said her center “helps people overcome their anxiety disorders through a variety of techniques,” including “examining and correcting erroneous cognitions.”

CTSA treats people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress and social phobia, some of whom are so debilitated that the disorder interferes with their everyday functioning.

Foa said a person who had an obsessive-compulsive disorder, for example, might be afraid to touch doorknobs for fear of contamination by germs; a rape victim suffering from post-traumatic stress might be afraid to leave her house after dark; or someone with social phobia might avoid interaction at all costs — even at the expense of a career.

One technique CTSA uses is exposure therapy, in which a patient is exposed to his fear and gradually learns it is not harmful. A therapist might take someone who had a fear of germs and sit with the person on the floor, encourage him to touch doorknobs or go with him to a public rest room. Once a person sees that no catastrophes result from the feared action, anxiety decreases.

“With anxiety disorders, exposure therapies are extremely effective,” Foa said.

She recommended that students who feel they have a crippling anxiety should call the center to participate in one of CTSA’s studies, in which they would receive free treatment (usual fees are $125 per hour).

“They may not be totally cured, but treatment makes people better.”

Call 215-746-3327 for more information.


Originally published on April 20, 2000